It is the week before Christmas. A tanking economy has prompted Dr. Kay Scarpetta—despite her busy schedule and her continuing work as the senior forensic analyst for CNN—to offer her services pro bono to New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In no time at all, her increased visibility seems to precipitate a string of unexpected and unsettling events, culminating in an ominous package—possibly a bomb—showing up at the front desk of the apartment building where she and her husband, Benton, live. Soon the apparent threat on Scarpetta’s life finds her embroiled in a surreal plot that includes a famous actor accused of an unthinkable sex crime and the disappearance of a beautiful millionaire with whom her niece, Lucy, seems to have shared a secret past.
Scarpetta’s CNN producer wants her to launch a TV show called The Scarpetta Factor. Given the bizarre events already in play, she fears that her growing fame will generate the illusion that she has a “special factor,” a mythical ability to solve all her cases. She wonders if she will end up like other TV personalities: her own stereotype.
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About the Author
Hometown:Boston, MA and New York, NY
Date of Birth:June 9, 1956
Place of Birth:Miami, Florida
Education:B.A. in English, Davidson College, 1979; King College
Read an Excerpt
Voltaire,Oeuvres Complètes 1785
A frigid wind gusted in from the East River, snatching at Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s coat as she walked quickly along 30th Street.
It was one week before Christmas without a hint of the holidays in what she thought of as Manhattan’s Tragic Triangle, three vertices connected by wretchedness and death. Behind her was Memorial Park, a voluminous white tent housing the vacuum-packed human remains still unidentified or unclaimed from Ground Zero. Ahead on the left was the Gothic redbrick former Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, now a shelter for the homeless. Across from that was the loading dock and bay for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where a gray steel garage door was open. A truck was backing up, more pallets of plywood being unloaded. It had been a noisy day at the morgue, a constant hammering in corridors that carried sound like an amphitheater. The mortuary techs were busy assembling plain pine coffins, adult-size, infant-size, hardly able to keep up with the growing demand for city burials at Potter’s Field. Economy-related. Everything was.
Scarpetta already regretted the cheeseburger and fries in the cardboard box she carried. How long had they been in the warming cabinet on the serving line of the NYU Medical School cafeteria? It was late for lunch, almost three p.m., and she was pretty sure she knew the answer about the palatability of the food, but there was no time to place an order or bother with the salad bar, to eat healthy or even eat something she might actually enjoy. So far there had been fifteen cases today, suicides, accidents, homicides, and indigents who died unattended by a physician or, even sadder, alone.
She had been at work by six a.m. to get an early start, completing her first two autopsies by nine, saving the worst for last—a young woman with injuries and artifacts that were time-consuming and confounding. Scarpetta had spent more than five hours on Toni Darien, making meticulously detailed diagrams and notes, taking dozens of photographs, fixing the whole brain in a bucket of formalin for further studies, collecting and preserving more than the usual tubes of fluids and sections of organs and tissue, holding on to and documenting everything she possibly could in a case that was odd not because it was unusual but because it was a contradiction.
The twenty-six-year-old woman’s manner and cause of death were depressingly mundane and hadn’t required a lengthy postmortem examination to answer the most rudimentary questions. She was a homicide from blunt-force trauma, a single blow to the back of her head by an object that possibly had a multicolored painted surface. What didn’t make sense was everything else. When her body was discovered at the edge of Central Park, some thirty feet off East 110th Street shortly before dawn, it was assumed she had been jogging last night in the rain when she was sexually assaulted and murdered. Her running pants and panties were around her ankles, her fleece and sports bra pushed above her breasts. A Polartec scarf was tied in a double knot tightly around her neck, and at first glance it was assumed by the police and the OCME’s medicolegal investigators who responded to the scene that she was strangled with an article of her own clothing.
She wasn’t. When Scarpetta examined the body in the morgue, she found nothing to indicate the scarf had caused the death or even contributed to it, no sign of asphyxia, no vital reaction such as redness or bruising, only a dry abrasion on the neck, as if the scarf had been tied around it postmortem. Certainly it was possible the killer struck her in the head and at some point later strangled her, perhaps not realizing she was already dead. But if so, how much time did he spend with her? Based on the contusion, swelling, and hemorrhage to the cerebral cortex of her brain, she had survived for a while, possibly hours. Yet there was very little blood at the scene. It wasn’t until the body was turned over that the injury to the back of her head was even noticed, a one-and-a-half-inch laceration with significant swelling but only a slight weeping of fluid from the wound, the lack of blood blamed on the rain.
Scarpetta seriously doubted it. The scalp laceration would have bled heavily, and it was unlikely a rainstorm that was intermittent and at best moderate would have washed most of the blood out of Toni’s long, thick hair. Did her assailant fracture her skull, then spend a long interval with her outside on a rainy winter’s night before tying a scarf tightly around her neck to make sure she didn’t live to tell the tale? Or was the ligature part of a sexually violent ritual? Why were livor and rigor mortis arguing loudly with what the crime scene seemed to say? It appeared she had died in the park late last night, and it appeared she had been dead for as long as thirty-six hours. Scarpetta was baffled by the case. Maybe she was overthinking it. Maybe she wasn’t thinking clearly, for that matter, because she was harried and her blood sugar was low, having eaten nothing all day, only coffee, lots of it.
She was about to be late for the three p.m. staff meeting and needed to be home by six to go to the gym and have dinner with her husband, Benton Wesley, before rushing over to CNN, the last thing she felt like doing. She should never have agreed to appear on The Crispin Report. Why for God’s sake had she agreed to go on the air with Carley Crispin and talk about postmortem changes in head hair and the importance of microscopy and other disciplines of forensic science, which were misunderstood because of the very thing Scarpetta had gotten herself involved in—the entertainment industry? She carried her boxed lunch through the loading dock, piled with cartons and crates of office and morgue supplies, and metal carts and trollies and plywood. The security guard was busy on the phone behind Plexiglas and barely gave her a glance as she went past.
At the top of a ramp she used the swipe card she wore on a lanyard to open a heavy metal door and entered a catacomb of white subway tile with teal-green accents and rails that seemed to lead everywhere and nowhere. When she first began working here as a part-time ME, she got lost quite a lot, ending up at the anthropology lab instead of the neuropath lab or the cardiopath lab or the men’s locker room instead of the women’s, or the decomp room instead of the main autopsy room, or the wrong walk-in refrigerator or stairwell or even on the wrong floor when she boarded the old steel freight elevator.
Soon enough she caught on to the logic of the layout, to its sensible circular flow, beginning with the bay. Like the loading dock, it was behind a massive garage door. When a body was delivered by the medical examiner transport team, the stretcher was unloaded in the bay and passed beneath a radiation detector over the door. If no alarm was triggered indicating the presence of a radioactive material, such as radiopharmaceuticals used in the treatment of some cancers, the next stop was the floor scale, where the body was weighed and measured. Where it went after that depended on its condition. If it was in bad shape or considered potentially hazardous to the living, it went inside the walk-in decomp refrigerator next to the decomp room, where the autopsy would be performed in isolation with special ventilation and other protections.
If the body was in good shape it was wheeled along a corridor to the right of the bay, a journey that could at some point include the possibility of various stops relative to the body’s stage of deconstruction: the x-ray suite, the histology specimen storage room, the forensic anthropology lab, two more walk-in refrigerators for fresh bodies that hadn’t been examined yet, the lift for those that were to be viewed and identified upstairs, evidence lockers, the neuropath room, the cardiac path room, the main autopsy room. After a case was completed and the body was ready for release, it ended up full circle back at the bay inside yet another walk-in refrigerator, which was where Toni Darien should be right now, zipped up in a pouch on a storage rack.
But she wasn’t. She was on a gurney parked in front of the stainless-steel refrigerator door, an ID tech arranging a blue sheet around the neck, up to the chin.
“What are we doing?” Scarpetta said.
“We’ve had a little excitement upstairs. She’s going to be viewed.”
“By whom and why?”
“Mother’s in the lobby and won’t leave until she sees her. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” The tech’s name was Rene, mid-thirties with curly black hair and ebony eyes, and unusually gifted at handling families. If she was having a problem with one, it wasn’t trivial. Rene could defuse just about anything.
“I thought the father had made the ID,” Scarpetta said.
“He filled out the paperwork, and then I showed him the picture you uploaded to me—this was right before you left for the cafeteria. A few minutes later, the mother walks in and the two of them start arguing in the lobby, and I mean going at it, and finally he storms out.”
“And obviously hate each other. She’s insisting on seeing the body, won’t take no for an answer.” Rene’s purple nitrile-gloved hands moved a strand of damp hair off the dead woman’s brow, rearranging several more strands behind the ears, making sure no sutures from the autopsy showed. “I know you’ve got a staff meeting in a few minutes. I’ll take care of this.” She looked at the cardboard box Scarpetta was holding. “You didn’t even eat yet. What have you had today? Probably nothing, as usual. How much weight have you lost? You’re going to end up in the anthro lab, mistaken for a skeleton.”
“What were they arguing about in the lobby?” Scarpetta asked.
“Funeral homes. Mother wants one on Long Island. Father wants one in New Jersey. Mother wants a burial, but the father wants cremation. Both of them fighting over her.” Touching the dead body again, as if it were part of the conversation. “Then they started blaming each other for everything you can think of. At one point Dr. Edison came out, they were causing such a ruckus.”
He was the chief medical examiner and Scarpetta’s boss when she worked in the city. It was still a little hard getting used to being supervised, having been either a chief herself or the owner of a private practice for most of her career. But she wouldn’t want to be in charge of the New York OCME, not that she’d been asked or likely ever would be. Running an office of this magnitude was like being the mayor of a major metropolis.
“Well, you know how it works,” Scarpetta said. “A dispute, and the body doesn’t go anywhere. We’ll put a hold on her release until Legal instructs us otherwise. You showed the mother the picture, and then what?”
“I tried, but she wouldn’t look at it. She says she wants to see her daughter and isn’t leaving until she does.”
“She’s in the family room?”
“That’s where I left her. I put the folder on your desk, copies of the paperwork.”
“Thanks. I’ll look at it when I go upstairs. You get her on the lift, and I’ll take care of things on the other end,” Scarpetta said. “Maybe you can let Dr. Edison know I’m going to miss the three-o’clock. In fact, it’s already started. Hopefully I’ll catch up with him before he heads home. He and I need to talk about this case.”
“I’ll tell him.” Rene placed her hands on the steel gurney’s push handle. “Good luck on TV tonight.”
“Tell him the scene photos have been uploaded to him, but I won’t be able to dictate the autopsy protocol or get those photos to him until tomorrow.”
“I saw the commercials for the show. They’re cool.” Rene was still talking about TV. “Except I can’t stand Carley Crispin and what’s the name of that profiler who’s on there all the time? Dr. Agee. I’m sick and tired of them talking about Hannah Starr. I’m betting Carley’s going to ask you about it.”
“CNN knows I won’t discuss active cases.”
“You think she’s dead? Because I sure do.” Rene’s voice followed Scarpetta into the elevator. “Like what’s-her-name in Aruba? Natalee? People vanish for a reason—because somebody wanted them to.”
Scarpetta had been promised. Carley Crispin wouldn’t do that to her, wouldn’t dare. It wasn’t as if Scarpetta was simply another expert, an outsider, an infrequent guest, a talking head, she reasoned, as the elevator made its ascent. She was CNN’s senior forensic analyst and had been adamant with executive producer Alex Bachta that she could not discuss or even allude to Hannah Starr, the beautiful financial titan who seemingly had vanished in thin air the day before Thanksgiving, reportedly last seen leaving a restaurant in Greenwich Village and getting into a yellow cab. If the worst had happened, if she was dead and her body turned up in New York City, it would be this office’s jurisdiction, and Scarpetta could end up with the case.
She got off on the first floor and followed a long hallway past the Division of Special Operations, and through another locked door was the lobby, arranged with burgundy and blue upholstered couches and chairs, coffee tables and racks of magazines, and a Christmas tree and menorah in a window overlooking First Avenue. Carved in marble above the reception desk was Taceant colloquia. Effugiat risus. Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. Let conversations cease. Let laughter depart. This is the place where death delights to help the living. Music sounded from a radio on the floor behind the desk, the Eagles playing “Hotel California.” Filene, one of the security guards, had decided that an empty lobby was hers to fill with what she called her tunes.
“. . . You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” Filene softly sang along, oblivious to the irony.
“There should be someone in the family room?” Scarpetta stopped at the desk.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Filene reached down, turning off the radio. “I didn’t think she could hear from in there. But that’s all right. I can go without my tunes. It’s just I get so bored, you know? Sitting and sitting when nothing’s going on.”
What Filene routinely witnessed in this place was never happy, and that rather than boredom was likely the reason she listened to her upbeat soft rock whenever she could, whether she was working the reception desk or downstairs in the mortuary office. Scarpetta didn’t care, as long as there were no grieving families to overhear music or lyrics that might be provocative or construed as disrespectful.
“Tell Mrs. Darien I’m on my way,” Scarpetta said. “I need about fifteen minutes to check a few things and look at the paperwork. Let’s hold the tunes until she’s gone, okay?”
Off the lobby to the left was the administrative wing she shared with Dr. Edison, two executive assistants, and the chief of staff, who was on her honeymoon until after the New Year. In a building half a century old with no space to spare, there was no place to put Scarpetta on the third floor, where the full-time forensic pathologists had their offices. When she was in the city, she parked herself in what was formerly the chief’s conference room on the ground level, with a view of the OCME’s turquoise-blue brick entrance on First Avenue. She unlocked her door and stepped inside. She hung her coat, set her boxed lunch on her desk, and sat in front of her computer.
Opening a Web browser, she typed BioGraph into a search field. At the top of the screen was the query Did you mean: BioGraphy. No, she didn’t. Biograph Records. Not what she was looking for. American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the oldest movie company in America, founded in 1895 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison, a distant ancestor of the chief medical examiner, not sure how many times removed. An interesting coincidence. Nothing for BioGraph with a capital B and a capital G, the way it was stamped on the back of the unusual watch Toni Darien was wearing on her left wrist when her body arrived at the morgue this morning.
It was snowing hard in Stowe, Vermont, big flakes falling heavy and wet, piled in the branches of balsam firs and Scotch pines. The ski lifts traversing the Green Mountains were faint spidery lines, almost invisible in the storm and at a standstill. Nobody skiing in this stuff, nobody doing anything except staying inside.
Lucy Farinelli’s helicopter was stuck in nearby Burlington. At least it was safely in a hangar, but she and New York County Assistant District Attorney Jaime Berger weren’t going anywhere for five hours, maybe longer, not before nine p.m., when the storm was supposed to have cleared to the south. At that point, conditions should be VFR again, a ceiling greater than three thousand feet, visibility five miles or more, winds gusting up to thirty knots out of the northeast. They’d have a hell of a tailwind heading home to New York, should get there in time for what they needed to do, but Berger was in a mood, had been in the other room on the phone all day, not even trying to be nice. The way she looked at it, the weather had trapped them here longer than planned, and since Lucy was a pilot, it was her fault. Didn’t matter the forecasters had been wrong, that what began as two distinct small storms combined into one over Saskatchewan, Canada, and merged with an arctic air mass to create a bit of a monster.
Lucy turned down the volume of the YouTube video, Mick Fleetwood’s drum solo for “World Turning,” live in concert in 1987.
“Can you hear me now?” she said over the phone to her Aunt Kay. “The signal’s pretty bad here, and the weather isn’t helping.”
“Much better. How are we doing?” Scarpetta’s voice in Lucy’s jawbone.
“I’ve found nothing so far. Which is weird.”
Lucy had three MacBooks going, each screen split into quadrants, displaying Aviation Weather Center updates, data streams from neural network searches, links prompting her that they might lead to websites of interest, Hannah Starr’s e-mail, Lucy’s e-mail, and security camera footage of the actor Hap Judd wearing scrubs in the Park General Hospital morgue before he was famous.
“You sure of the name?” she asked as she scanned the screens, her mind jumping from one preoccupation to the next.
“All I know is what’s stamped on the steel back of it.” Scarpetta’s voice, serious and in a hurry. “BioGraph.” She spelled it again. “And a serial number. Maybe it’s not going to be picked up by the usual software that searches the Internet. Like viruses. If you don’t already know what you’re looking for, you won’t find it.”
“It’s not like antivirus software. The search engines I use aren’t software-driven. I do open-source searches. I’m not finding BioGraph because it’s not on the Net. Nothing published about it. Not on message boards or in blogs or in databases, not in anything.”
“Please don’t hack,” Scarpetta said.
“I simply exploit weaknesses in operating systems.”
“Yes, and if a back door is unlocked and you walk into somebody’s house, it’s not trespassing.”
“No mention of BioGraph or I’d find it.” Lucy wasn’t going to get into their usual debate about the end justifying the means.
“I don’t see how that’s possible. This is a very sophisticated-looking watch with a USB port. You have to charge it, likely on a docking station. I suspect it was rather expensive.”
“Not finding it if I search it as a watch or a device or anything.” Lucy watched results rolling by, her neural net search engines sorting through an infinity of keywords, anchor text, file types, URLs, title tags, e-mail and IP addresses. “I’m looking and not seeing anything even close to what you’ve described.”
“Got to be some way to know what it is.”
“It isn’t. That’s my point,” Lucy said. “There’s no such thing as a BioGraph watch or device, or anything that might remotely fit what Toni Darien was wearing. Her BioGraph watch doesn’t exist.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t?”
“I mean it doesn’t exist on the Internet, within the communication network, or metaphorically in cyberspace. In other words, a BioGraph watch doesn’t exist virtually,” Lucy said. “If I physically look at whatever this thing is, I’ll probably figure it out. Especially if you’re right and it’s some sort of data-collecting device.”
“Can’t do that until the labs are done with it.”
“Shit, don’t let them get out their screwdrivers and hammers,” Lucy said.
“Being swabbed for DNA, that’s all. The police already checked for prints. Nothing. Please tell Jaime she can call me when it’s convenient. I hope you’re having some fun. Sorry I don’t have time to chat right now.”
“If I see her, I’ll tell her.”
“She’s not with you?” Scarpetta probed.
“The Hannah Starr case and now this. Jaime’s a little tied up, has a lot on her mind. You of all people know how it is.” Lucy wasn’t interested in discussing her personal life.
“I hope she’s had a happy birthday.”
Lucy didn’t want to talk about it. “What’s the weather like there?”
“Windy and cold. Overcast.”
“You’re going to get more rain, possibly snow north of the city,” Lucy said. “It will be cleared out by midnight, because the system is weakening as it heads your way.”
“The two of you are staying put, I hope.”
“If I don’t get the chopper out, she’ll be looking for a dog-sled.”
“Call me before you leave, and please be careful,” Scarpetta said. “I’ve got to go, got to talk to Toni Darien’s mother. I miss you. We’ll have dinner, do something soon?”
“Sure,” Lucy said.
She got off the phone and turned the sound up again on YouTube, Mick Fleetwood still going at it on the drums. Both hands on MacBooks as if she was in her own rock concert playing a solo on keyboards, she clicked on another weather update, clicked on an e-mail that had just landed in Hannah Starr’s in-box. People were bizarre. If you know someone has disappeared and might even be dead, why do you continue to send e-mail? Lucy wondered if Hannah Starr’s husband, Bobby Fuller, was so stupid it didn’t occur to him that the NYPD and the district attorney’s office might be monitoring Hannah’s e-mail or getting a forensic computer expert like Lucy to do it. For the past three weeks Bobby had been sending daily messages to his missing wife. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, wanted law enforcement to see what he was writing to his bien-aimée, his chouchou, his amore mio,the love of his life. If he’d murdered her, he wouldn’t be writing her love notes, right?
From: Bobby Fuller
Sent: Thursday, December 18, 3:24 P.M.
Subject: Non posso vivere senza di te
My Little One,
I hope you are someplace safe and reading this. My heart is carried by the wings of my soul and finds you wherever you are. Don’t forget. I can’t eat or sleep. B.
Lucy checked his IP address, recognized it at a glance by now. Bobby and Hannah’s apartment in North Miami Beach, where he was pining away while hiding from the media in palatial surroundings that Lucy knew all too well—had been in that same apartment with his lovely thief of a wife not that long ago, as a matter of fact. Every time Lucy saw an e-mail from Bobby and tried to get into his head, she wondered how he would really feel if he believed Hannah was dead.
Or maybe he knew she was dead or knew she wasn’t. Maybe he knew exactly what had happened to her because he really did have something to do with it. Lucy had no idea, but when she tried to put herself in Bobby’s place and care, she couldn’t. All that mattered to her was that Hannah reaped what she sowed or eventually did, sooner rather than later. She deserved any bad fate she might get, had wasted Lucy’s time and money and now was stealing something far more precious. Three weeks of Hannah. Nothing with Berger. Even when she and Lucy were together, they were apart. Lucy was scared. She was seething. At times she felt she could do something terrible.
She forwarded Bobby’s latest e-mail to Berger, who was in the other room, walking around. The sound of her feet on hardwood. Lucy got interested in a website address that had begun to flash in a quadrant of one of the MacBooks.
“Now what are we up to?” she said to the empty living room of the town house she’d rented for Berger’s surprise birthday getaway, a five-star resort with high-speed wireless, fireplaces, feather beds, and linens with an eight-hundred thread count. The retreat had everything except what it was intended for—intimacy, romance, fun—and Lucy blamed Hannah, she blamed Hap Judd, she blamed Bobby, blamed everyone. Lucy felt haunted by them and unwanted by Berger.
“This is ridiculous,” Berger said as she walked in, referring to the world beyond their windows, everything white, just the shapes of trees and rooflines through snow coming down in veils. “Are we ever going to get out of here?”
“Now, what is this?” Lucy muttered, clicking on a link.
A search by IP address had gotten a hit on a website hosted by the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center.
“Who were you just talking to?” Berger asked.
“My aunt. Now I’m talking to myself. Got to talk to somebody.”
Berger ignored the dig, wasn’t about to apologize for what she’d say she couldn’t help. It wasn’t her fault Hannah Starr had disappeared and Hap Judd was a pervert who might have information, and if that hadn’t been enough of a distraction, now a jogger had been raped and murdered in Central Park last night. Berger would tell Lucy she needed to be more understanding. She shouldn’t be so selfish. She needed to grow up and stop being insecure and demanding.
“Can we do without the drums?” Berger’s migraines were back. She was getting them often.
Lucy exited YouTube and the living room was silent, no sound but the gas fire on the hearth, and she said, “More of the same sicko stuff.”
Berger put her glasses on and leaned close to look, and she smelled like Amorvero bath oil, and had no makeup on and she didn’t need it. Her short, dark hair was messy and she was sexy as hell in a black warm-up suit, nothing under it, the jacket unzipped, exposing plenty of cleavage, not that she meant anything by it. Lucy wasn’t sure what Berger meant or where she was much of the time these days, but she wasn’t present—not emotionally. Lucy wanted to put her arms around her, to show her what they used to have, what it used to be like.
“He’s looking at the Body Farm’s website, and I doubt it’s because he’s thinking of killing himself and donating his body to science,” Lucy said.
“Who are you talking about?” Berger was reading what was on a MacBook screen, a form with the heading:
Forensic Anthropology Center
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Body Donation Questionnaire
“Hap Judd,” Lucy said. “He’s gotten linked by his IP address to this website because he just used a fake name to order . . . Hold on, let’s see what the sleaze is up to. Let’s follow the trail.” Opening Web pages. “To this screen here. FORDISC Software Sales. An interactive computer program that runs under Windows. Classifying and identifying skeletal remains. The guy’s really morbid. It’s not normal. I’m telling you, we’re onto something with him.”
“Let’s be honest. You’re onto something because you’re looking for something,” Berger said, as if to imply that Lucy wasn’t honest. “You’re trying to find evidence of what you perceive is the crime.”
“I’m finding evidence because he’s leaving it,” Lucy said. They had been arguing about Hap Judd for weeks. “I don’t know why you’re so reticent. Do you think I’m making this stuff up?”
“I want to talk to him about Hannah Starr, and you want to crucify him.”
“You need to scare the hell out of him if you want him to talk. Especially without a damn lawyer present. And I’ve managed to make that happen, to get you what you want.”
“If we ever get out of here and he shows up.” Berger moved away from the computer screen and decided, “Maybe he’s playing an anthropologist, an archaeologist, an explorer in his next film. Some Raiders of the Lost Ark or another one of those mummy movies with tombs and ancient curses.”
“Right,” Lucy said. “Method acting, total immersion in his next twisted character, writing another one of his piss-poor screenplays. That will be his alibi when we go after him about Park General and his unusual interests.”
“We won’t be going after him. I will. You’re not going to do anything but show him what you’ve found in your computer searches. Marino and I will do the talking.”
Lucy would check with Pete Marino later, when there was no threat that Berger could overhear their conversation. He didn’t have any respect for Hap Judd and sure as hell wasn’t afraid of him. Marino had no qualms about investigating someone famous or locking him up. Berger seemed intimidated by Judd, and Lucy didn’t understand it. She had never known Berger to be intimidated by anyone.
“Come here.” Lucy pulled her close, sat her on her lap. “What’s going on with you?” Nuzzling her back, sliding her hands inside the jacket of the warm-up suit. “What’s got you so spooked? It’s going to be a late night. We should take a nap.”
Grace Darien had long, dark hair and the same turned-up nose and full lips as her murdered daughter. Wearing a red wool coat buttoned up to her chin, she looked small and pitiful as she stood before a window overlooking the black iron fence and dead vine-covered brick of Bellevue. The sky was the color of lead.
“Mrs. Darien? I’m Dr. Scarpetta.” She walked into the family room and closed the door.
“It’s possible this is a mistake.” Mrs. Darien moved away from the window, her hands shaking badly. “I keep thinking this can’t be right. It can’t be. It’s somebody else. How do you know for sure?” She sat down at the small wooden table near the watercooler, her face stunned and expressionless, a gleam of terror in her eyes.
“We’ve made a preliminary identification of your daughter based on personal effects recovered by the police.” Scarpetta pulled out a chair and sat across from her. “Your former husband also looked at a photograph.”
“The one taken here.”
“Yes. Please let me tell you how sorry I am.”
“Did he get around to mentioning he only sees her once or twice a year?”
“We will compare dental records and will do DNA if need be,” Scarpetta said.
“I can write down her dentist’s information. She still uses my dentist.” Grace Darien dug into her handbag, and a lipstick and a compact clattered to the table. “The detective I talked to finally when I got home and got the message. I can’t remember the name, a woman. Then another detective called. A man. Mario, Marinaro.” Her voice trembled and she blinked back tears, pulling out a small notepad, a pen.
She scribbled something and tore out the page, her hands fumbling, almost palsied. “I don’t know our dentist’s number off the top of my head. Here’s his name and address.” Sliding the piece of paper to Scarpetta. “Marino. I believe so.”
“He’s a detective with NYPD and assigned to Assistant District Attorney Jaime Berger’s office. Her office will be in charge of the criminal investigation.” Scarpetta tucked the note into the file folder Rene had left for her.
“He said they were going into Toni’s apartment to get her hair-brush, her toothbrush. They probably already have, I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything else,” Mrs. Darien continued, her voice quavering and catching. “The police talked to Larry first because I wasn’t home. I was taking the cat to the vet. I had to put my cat to sleep, can you imagine the timing. That’s what I was doing when they were trying to find me. The detective from the DA’s office said you could get her DNA from things in her apartment. I don’t understand how you can be sure it’s her when you haven’t done those tests yet.”
Scarpetta had no doubt about Toni Darien’s identity. Her driver’s license and apartment keys were in a pocket of the fleece that came in with the body. Postmortem x-rays showed healed fractures of the collarbone and right arm, and the old injuries were consistent with ones sustained five years ago when Toni was riding her bicycle and was struck by a car, according to information from NYPD.
“I told her about jogging in the city,” Mrs. Darien was saying. “I can’t tell you how many times, but she never did it after dark. I don’t know why she would in the rain. She hates running in the rain, especially when it’s cold. I think there’s been a mistake.”
Scarpetta moved a box of tissues closer to her and said, “I’d like to ask you a few questions, to go over a few things before we see her. Would that be all right?” After the viewing, Grace Darien would be in no condition to talk. “When’s the last time you had contact with your daughter?”
“Tuesday morning. I can’t tell you the exact time but probably around ten. I called her and we chatted.”
“Two mornings ago, December sixteenth.”
“Yes.” She wiped her eyes.
“Nothing since then? No other phone calls, voicemails, e mails?”
“We didn’t talk or e-mail every day, but she sent a text message. I can show it to you.” She reached for her pocketbook. “I should have told the detective that, I guess. What did you say his name is?”
“He wanted to know about her e-mail, because he said they’re going to need to look at it. I told him the address, but of course I don’t know her password.” She rummaged for her phone, her glasses. “I called Toni Tuesday morning, asking if she wanted turkey or ham. For Christmas. She didn’t want either. She said she might bring fish, and I said I’d get whatever she wanted. It was just a normal conversation, mostly about things like that, since her two brothers are coming home. All of us together on Long Island.” She had her phone out and her glasses on, was scrolling through something with shaky hands. “That’s where I live. In Islip. I’m a nurse at Mercy Hospital.” She gave Scarpetta the phone. “That’s what she sent last night.” She pulled more tissues from the box.
Scarpetta read the text message:
Still trying to get days off but Xmas so crazy. I have to get coverage and no one wants to especially because of the hours. XXOO
Received: Wed Dec. 17. 8:07 p.m.
Scarpetta said, “And this nine-one-seven number is your daughter’s?”
“Can you tell me what she’s referring to in this message?” She would make sure Marino knew about it.
“She works nights and weekends and has been trying to get someone to cover for her so she can take some time off during the holiday,” Mrs. Darien said. “Her brothers are coming.”
“Your former husband said she worked as a waitress in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“He would say that, as if she slings hash or flips burgers. She works in the lounge at High Roller Lanes, a very nice place, very high-class, not your typical bowling alley. She wants to have her own restaurant in some big hotel someday in Las Vegas or Paris or Monte Carlo.”
“Was she working last night?”
“Not usually on Wednesdays. Mondays through Wednesdays she’s usually off, and then she works very long hours Thursdays through Sundays.”
“Do her brothers know what’s happened?” Scarpetta asked. “I wouldn’t want them hearing about it on the news.”
“Larry’s probably told them. I would have waited. It might not be true.”
“We’ll want to be mindful of anybody who perhaps shouldn’t find out from the news.” Scarpetta was as gentle as she could be. “What about a boyfriend? A significant other?”
“Well, I’ve wondered. I visited Toni at her apartment in September and there were all these stuffed animals on her bed, and a lot of perfumes and such, and she was evasive about where they’d come from. And at Thanksgiving she was text-messaging all the time, happy one minute, in a bad mood the next. You know how people act when they’re infatuated. I do know she meets a lot of people at work, a lot of very attractive and exciting men.”
“Possible she might have confided in your former husband? Told him about a boyfriend, for example?”
“They weren’t close. What you don’t understand is why he’s doing this, what Larry is really up to. It’s all to get back at me and make everybody think he’s the dutiful father instead of a drunk, a compulsive gambler who abandoned his family. Toni would never want to be cremated, and if the worst has happened, I’ll use the funeral home that took care of my mother, Levine and Sons.”
“I’m afraid until you and Mr. Darien settle your dispute about the disposition of Toni’s remains, the OCME can’t release her,” Scarpetta said.
“You can’t listen to him. He left Toni when she was a baby. Why should anybody listen to him?”
“The law requires that disputes such as yours must be resolved, if need be by the courts, before we can release the body,” Scarpetta said. “I’m sorry. I know the last thing you need right now is frustration and more upset.”
“What right does he have suddenly showing up after twenty-something years, making demands, wanting her personal things. Fighting with me about that in the lobby and telling that girl he wanted Toni’s belongings, whatever she had on when she came in, and it might not even be her. Saying such horrid, heartless things! He was drunk and looked at a picture. And you trust that? Oh, God. What am I going to see? Just tell me so I know what to expect.”
“Your daughter’s cause of death is blunt-force trauma that fractured her skull and injured her brain,” Scarpetta said.
“Someone hit her on the head.” Her voice shook and she broke down and cried.
“She suffered a severe blow to the head. Yes.”
“How many? Just one?”
“Mrs. Darien, I need to caution you from the start that anything I tell you is in confidence and it’s my duty to exercise caution and good judgment in what you and I discuss right now,” Scarpetta said. “It’s critical nothing is released that might actually aid your daughter’s assailant in getting away with this very terrible crime. I hope you understand. Once the police investigation is complete, you can make an appointment with me and we’ll have as detailed a discussion as you’d like.”
“Toni was out jogging last night in the rain on the north side of Central Park? In the first place, what was she doing over there? Has anybody bothered asking that question?”
“All of us are asking a lot of questions, and unfortunately have very few answers so far,” Scarpetta replied. “But as I understand it, your daughter has an apartment on the Upper East Side, on Second Avenue. That’s about twenty blocks from where she was found, which isn’t very far for an avid runner.”
“But it was in Central Park after dark. It was near Harlem after dark. She would never go running in an area like that after dark. And she hated the rain. She hated being cold. Did someone come up behind her? Did she struggle with him? Oh, dear God.”
“I’ll remind you what I said about details, about the caution we need to exercise right now,” Scarpetta replied. “I can tell you that I found no obvious signs of a struggle. It appears Toni was struck on the head, causing a large contusion, a lot of hemorrhage into her brain, which indicates a survival time that was long enough for significant tissue response.”
“But she wouldn’t have been conscious.”
“Her findings indicate some survival time, but no, she wouldn’t have been conscious. She may have had no awareness at all of what happened, of the attack. We won’t know until certain test results come back.” Scarpetta opened the file and removed the health history form, placing it in front of Mrs. Darien. “Your former husband filled this out. I’d appreciate it if you’d look.”
The paperwork shook in Mrs. Darien’s hands as she scanned it.
“Name, address, place of birth, parents’ names. Please let me know if we need to correct anything,” Scarpetta said. “Did she have high blood pressure, diabetes, hypoglycemia, mental health issues—was she pregnant, for example.”
“He checked no to everything. What the hell does he know?”
“No depression, moodiness, a change of behavior that might have struck you as unusual.” Scarpetta was thinking about the BioGraph watch. “Did she have problems sleeping? Anything at all going on with her that was different from the past? You said she might have been out of sorts of late.”
“Maybe a boyfriend problem or something at work, the economy being what it is. Some of the girls she works with have been laid off,” Mrs. Darien said. “She gets in moods like everybody else. Especially this time of year. She doesn’t like winter weather.”
“Any medications you might be aware of?”
“Just over-the-counter, as far as I know. Vitamins. She takes very good care of herself.”
“I’m interested in who her internist might be, her doctor or doctors. Mr. Darien didn’t fill in that part.”
“He wouldn’t know. He’s never gotten the bills. Toni’s been living on her own since college, and I can’t be sure who her doctor is. She never gets sick, has more energy than anyone I know. Always on the go.”
“Are you aware of any jewelry she might have routinely worn? Perhaps rings, a bracelet, a necklace she rarely took off?” Scarpetta said.
“I don’t know.”
“What about a watch?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What looks like a black plastic sports watch, digital? A large black watch? Does that sound familiar?”
Mrs. Darien shook her head.
“I’ve seen similar watches when people are involved in studies. In your profession, I’m sure you have, too. Watches that are cardiac monitors or worn by people who have sleep disorders, for example,” Scarpetta said.
A look of hope in Mrs. Darien’s eyes.
“What about when you saw Toni at Thanksgiving,” Scarpetta said. “Might she have been wearing a watch like the one I just described?”
“No.” Mrs. Darien shook her head. “That’s what I mean. It might not be her. I’ve never seen her wearing anything like that.”
Scarpetta asked her if she would like to see the body now, and they got up from the table and walked into an adjoining room, small and bare, just a few photographs of New York City skylines on pale-green walls. The viewing window was approximately waist-high, about the height of a casket on a bier, and on the other side was a steel screen—actually, the doors of the lift that had carried Toni’s body up from the morgue.
“Before I open the screen, I want to explain what you’re going to see,” Scarpetta said. “Would you like to sit on the sofa?”
“No. No, thank you. I’ll stand. I’m ready.” Her eyes were wide and panicked, and she was breathing fast.
“I’m going to push a button.” Scarpetta indicated a panel of three buttons on the wall, two black, one red, old elevator buttons. “And when the screen opens, the body will be right here.”
“Yes. I understand. I’m ready.” She could barely talk, she was so frightened, shaking as if freezing cold, breathing hard as if she’d just exerted herself.
“The body is on a gurney inside the elevator, on the other side of the window. Her head will be here, to the left. The rest of her is covered.”
Scarpetta pushed the top black button, and the steel doors parted with a loud clank. Through scratched Plexiglas Toni Darien was shrouded in blue, her face wan, her eyes shut, her lips colorless and dry, her long, dark hair still damp from rinsing. Her mother pressed her hands against the window. Bracing herself, she began to scream.
Pete Marino was unsettled as he looked around the studio apartment, trying to read its personality and mood, trying to intuit what it had to tell him.
Scenes were like dead people. They had a lot to say if you understood their silent language, and what bothered him right away was that Toni Darien’s laptop and cell phone were gone, their chargers still plugged into the wall. What continued to nag at him was that there was nothing else that seemed to be missing or disturbed, the police by now of the opinion that her apartment had nothing to do with her murder. Yet he sensed someone had been in here. He didn’t know why he sensed it, one of those feelings he got at the back of his neck, as if something was watching him or trying to get his attention and he couldn’t see what it was.
Marino stepped back out into the hallway, where a uniformed NYPD cop was babysitting the apartment, no one allowed to go in unless Jaime Berger said so. She wanted the apartment sealed until she was satisfied she needed nothing more from it, had been adamant on the phone with Marino but also talking out of both sides of her mouth. Don’t get too hung up on her apartment, and treat it like the crime scene. Well, which was it? Marino had been around the block too many times to pay much attention to anyone, including his boss. He did his own thing. As far as he was concerned, Toni Darien’s apartment was a scene, and he was going to turn it inside out.
“Tell you what,” Marino said to the cop outside the door, his last name Mellnik. “Maybe give Bonnell a call. I need to talk to her about the missing laptop, the cell phone, make sure she didn’t take them.”
Bonnell was the NYPD case investigator who’d already been through the apartment earlier today with the Crime Scene Unit.
“What, you don’t got a phone?” Mellnik was leaning against the wall in the dimly lit hallway, a folding chair nearby at the top of the stairs.
When Marino left, Mellnik would move the chair back inside the apartment and sit until he needed a bathroom break or his replacement showed up for midnight shift. A fucking lousy job. Somebody had to do it.
“You’re so busy?” Marino said to him.
“Just because I’m hanging around with my thumb up my ass doesn’t mean I’m not busy. I’m busy thinking.” Tapping his gelled black hair, a short guy built like a bullet. “I’ll track her down, but like I was telling you? When I got here, the guy I relieved talked my ear off about it, about what the crime scene guys were saying. Like where’s her phone? Where’s her laptop? But they don’t think someone came in here and took them. No evidence of that. I think it’s pretty fucking obvious what happened to her. Why do people still jog in the park at night, especially females? Go figure.”
“And the door was locked when Bonnell and the crime scene guys got here?”
“I told you, the super unlocked it, a guy named Joe, lives on the first floor, other end.” Pointing. “You can see for yourself. There’s no sign somebody jimmied the lock, broke in. The door was locked, the shades down in the windows, everything undisturbed, normal. That’s what I was told by the guy here before me, and he witnessed what Crime Scene did, the whole thing.”
Marino was studying the doorknob, the deadbolt, touching them with his gloved hands. He got a flashlight out of his pocket, looking carefully, not seeing any obvious signs of forced entry. Mellnik was right. Nothing appeared damaged or recently scratched.
Marino said, “Find Bonnell for me, get the dispatcher too so I can get it from her direct. Because I’m going to be asked about it fifty times when the boss is back in town, if not sooner. Most people who take their laptops off-site also take the charger. That’s bothering me.”
“Crime Scene would have taken the charger if they took the computer. They didn’t take nothing,” Mellnik said. “Maybe the victim had an extra charger, that occur to you? If she took her laptop somewhere and had a charger at that location or, you know, just an extra one. That’s what I think happened.”
“I’m sure Berger will send you a handwritten thank-you for your hearsay opinion.”
“What’s it like working for her?”
“The sex is pretty good,” said Marino. “If she’d just give me a little more time to recover. Five, ten times a day, and even I get tuckered out.”
“Yeah, and I’m Spider-Man. From what I hear, men aren’t what wind her clock. I look at her and go, no way. Must be a vicious rumor because she’s powerful, right? Any woman who’s got her kind of power and prominence? You know what they say, doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t get my girlfriend on the subject. She’s a firefighter. So right off, she’s either a lesbo or wearing a swimsuit in a calendar, that’s the assumption.”
“No shit. She in the Female Firefighters calendar? This year’s? I’ll order me a copy.”
“I said it was an assumption. So, my question. Is it an assumption about Jaime Berger? I got to admit, I’d love to know. It’s all over the Internet about her and Dr. Scarpetta’s—what is it, her daughter, her niece? The girl who used to be FBI and now does all Berger’s computer investigative stuff. I mean, does Jaime Berger hate men and that’s what motivates her to lock them up? Almost always it’s men she locks up, that is true. Not that females commit most sex crimes, but still. If anybody would know the real story, I guess it would be you.”
“Don’t wait for the movie. Read the book.”
“What book?” Mellnik sat down in his folding chair, slipped his phone out of the holder on his duty belt. “What book you talking about?”
“Maybe you should write it, you’re so curious.” Marino looked down the length of the hallway, brown carpet, dingy tan-painted walls, a total of eight units up here on the second floor.
“Like I was saying, I’ve been thinking I don’t want to do shit work like this all my life, maybe I should go into investigations, you know.” Mellnik kept on talking as if Marino was interested and they’d been friends for years. “Get assigned to Jaime Berger’s office like you, as long as she’s not a man-hater, that goes without saying. Or maybe to the FBI’s Joint Bank Robbery Task Force or Terrorism or something, where you go to a real office every day, get a take-home car, get treated with respect.”
“There’s no doorman,” Marino said. “The way you get into this building is a key, or you have to buzz somebody to let you in, like you did for me when I showed up. Once in the common area where the mailboxes are, you got a choice. You turn left, walk past four apartments, including the super’s, and take the stairs. Or you turn right and walk past the laundry room, the maintenance and the mechanical-systems closets, and a storage area, and take those stairs. Up two flights and conveniently here you are, not even six feet from Toni’s door. If someone got in her apartment, maybe had keys for some reason, he could have come in and left and not necessarily been seen by the neighbors. You been sitting here how long?”
“Just got here at two. Like I said, there was another officer here before that. I think once the body was found, they dispatched someone right away.”
“Yeah, I know. Berger had a little something to do with that. How many people you seen, you know, residents?”
“Since I got here? Nobody.”
“You heard running water, people walking around, noise coming from any of the other units?” Marino asked.
“From where I’ve been, either right here at the top of the stairs or just inside the door? It’s been real quiet. But I only been here, what?” Looking at his watch. “About two hours.”
Marino tucked the flashlight back into his coat pocket. “Everybody’s out this time of day. Not the building for you if you’re retired or a shut-in. One thing, there’s no elevator, so if you’re old or crippled or sick, this is a bad choice. There’s no rent control and it’s not a co-op, not a close-knit community, no residents who have been here for a long time, the average stay a couple of years. A lot of singles and couples with no kids. Average age, twenties and thirties. There are forty units, eight of them empty at the moment, and my guess is there aren’t a lot of Realtors showing up and buzzing the super. Because the economy sucks, which is one reason there are so many empty apartments to begin with, all vacated within the last six months.”
“How the hell do you know? You got psychic abilities like the Medium?”
Marino pulled a wad of folded paper from a pocket. “RTCC. Got a list of every resident in this building, who they are, what they do, if they ever been arrested, where they work, where they shop, what kind of car if they own one, who they fuck.”
“I never been over there.” He meant the Real Time Crime Center, or what Marino thought of as the command bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the information-technology center at One Police Plaza that basically ran NYPD’s starship operations.
“No pets,” Marino added.
“What do pets have to do with it?” Mellnik yawned. “Since they switched me to evenings, I’m so whacked. Can’t sleep worth shit. My girlfriend and me are like ships in the night.”
“In buildings where people aren’t home during the day, who’s going to take out the dog?” Marino continued. “Rents here start around twelve hundred. These aren’t the type of tenants who can afford dog walkers or want to be bothered. Other thing about that? Brings me back to my point. Not much going on, no eyes or ears. Not during the day, like I’m saying. If it was me, that would be when I’d show up to get inside her apartment if I was up to no good. Do it in plain view, when the street, the sidewalk are busy but the inside of the building isn’t.”
“I remind you she wasn’t attacked up here,” Mellnik said. “She was murdered while she was jogging in the park.”
“Find Bonnell. Get started on your investigative training early. Maybe you’ll grow up to be Dick Tracy.”
Marino walked back inside the apartment, leaving the door open. Toni Darien had lived like a lot of people just getting started, in a tiny space that Marino seemed to completely fill, as if the world suddenly had shrunk all around him. About four hundred square feet, he guessed, not that his apartment in Harlem was a hell of a lot bigger, but at least he had a one-bedroom, didn’t sleep in the friggin’ living room, and he had a backyard, a patch of artificial grass and a picnic table he shared with his neighbors, not much to brag about but more civilized than this. When he’d first showed up about half an hour ago, he’d done what he always did at a crime scene—gotten an overview without looking at anything in detail.
Now he’d pay closer attention, starting with the entranceway, enough space to turn around in and that was about it, with a tiny rattan table. On it was a Caesars Palace souvenir ashtray, maybe for Toni’s keys, which had been on a silver dice keychain found in a pocket of the fleece she was wearing when she was killed. Maybe she was like her old man, liked to gamble. Marino had checked him out, Lawrence Darien, a couple DUIs, had declared bankruptcy, and a few years ago was implicated in an offshore gambling ring in Bergen County, New Jersey. There were hints of ties to organized crime, possibly the Genovese crime family, the charges dropped, the guy a scumbag, a loser, a former bioelectrical engineer from MIT who had walked out on his family, was a deadbeat dad. Just the sort to set up his daughter for getting involved with the wrong kind of guys.
Toni didn’t look like a drinker. So far, she didn’t strike Marino as the partying type or someone given to compulsions, in fact the opposite, controlled, ambitious, and hard-driven, a fitness freak, a health nut. On the rattan table just inside the door was a framed photograph of her running in a race, maybe a marathon. She was nice-looking, like a model, with long, dark hair, tall and on the thin side, a typical runner’s body, no hips, no tits, a look of fierce determination on her face, pumping hard on a road packed with other runners, people off to the side cheering. Marino wondered who had taken the picture and when.
A few steps beyond the entranceway was the kitchen. A two-burner stove, a refrigerator, a single sink, three cabinets, two drawers, everything white. On the counter was a stack of mail, none of it opened, as if she’d walked in with it and set it down and got busy with other things or just wasn’t interested. Marino looked through several catalogs and circulars with coupons, what he called junk mail, and a flyer on bright pink paper alerting residents in the building that the water would be shut off tomorrow, December 19, from eight a.m. until noon.